Blog Post

Celebrating the Holidays through History: Thanksgiving

Founding the Feast: Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery and Pumpkin Pie

Rachel A. Snell, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

Freedom_from_want_1943-Norman_RockwellThese dishes have in common the use of distinctly American ingredients: turkey, cranberries, squash, and pumpkin.  Identifying the first use of these ingredients would be nearly impossible as they were slowly incorporated into American Foodways throughout the colonial period, but historians have identified the first printed version of recipes for precursors to pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and other delicacies now firmly associated with the celebration of Thanksgiving.  Many of these distinctly American recipes utilizing distinctly American ingredients first appeared, appropriately enough, in the first cookbook written and published in the United States, Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery, or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake Adapted to this Country and All Grades of Life.  A lengthy title, for a relatively unpretentious and inexpensively produced volume, first published in Hartford, Connecticut in the spring of 1796. Simmons’s cookery book sold for 2s. 3d., a modest price that placed it within the means of most American households. Read More.

The Colonists who Came to Dinner: Thanksgiving, L’Ordre des Bontemps, and Cook’s Tahitian Feasts

Greg Rogers, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

MassasoitAs Thanksgiving approaches, historians, especially those interested in colonial New England, often take the opportunity to debunk the popular myths of the first Thanksgiving for any friend or family member that may (or may not) have asked. However, in addition to pointing fallacies such as that the feast shared by the Plymouth colonists and their Wampanoag neighbors probably did not consist of potatoes and stuffing and it was not held in the month of November, a historical examination of the first Thanksgiving provides us with some insights into the early settlement of New England. Furthermore, the investigation of meals between Europeans and native peoples in general provides fascinating glimpses into the encounters between disparate peoples. The first Thanksgiving can be placed in the larger context of colonial encounters, revealing elements that set the famous feast apart from other meals while revealing surprising similarities with people and locales beyond Plymouth. Read More.

Over the River and Through the Wood: Defining Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America

Rachel A. Snell, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

a0000b88Many holiday songs draw on our nostalgia for a time past. The music of the season draws on our collective memory of a simpler time, whether that be childhood or the idealized historical past. Although originally written as a poem describing childhood anticipation for the Thanksgiving celebration at grandfather’s house, over time Over the River and Through the Wood has transformed into a song firmly associated with Christmas, sleigh rides, and grandmother’s cooking. The lyrics of the song conjure images of idealized domestic scenes, such as the farmyard depicted in the Currier and Ives print of John Schutler’s Home to Thanksgiving. The final two verses depict a similar scene to Schutler’s painting, revealing a child’s eagerness for family gatherings, grandmother’s love, and, of course, pumpkin pie. Read More.


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